Hyatt Regency Phnom Penh: Modern Classical Cambodia
Mark Bibby Jackson at last checks into a property he has long coveted, and admits to be right royally impressed by the Hyatt Regency Phnom Penh.
When I first moved to Phnom Penh to set up AsiaLIFE Cambodia there was one particularly building on Street 178 that we earmarked to set up our office, once we had made it – in our dreams. Sadly that was all it remained. For recently one of the last remaining royal villas around the Royal Palace was converted into the lobby and bar for the Hyatt Regency Phnom Penh.
Blending Modern and Ancient Cambodia
I write the last sentence with my tongue very firmly in my cheek. For 55 Street 178 is no mere lobby and bar. The preservation of the old building, which is one of the finest dwindling examples of architecture from the French colonial period, has been remarkable. Not only has this glorious building been preserved, but it has been given a functionality within the hotel. There is life in the old dog yet.
No expense has been spared. I am led to believe that the cost of the preservation of the old building was greater than that to build the multi-storey structure behind it where guest stay dine, and judging by my stay come to get married in their droves.
There is an attention to detail in the restoration work, such as the marble tiling, the iron spiral staircase and the faux Art Deco glass lift you scarce encounter in hotel refurbishments globally let alone in Cambodia. This fine eye has been carried through to the main building.
Traditional Khmer artwork and motifs leave you in no doubt that you are in the kingdom of Angkor. There is an unapologetic and triumphant fusion of the modern and the traditional that is totally in harmony with the rapid transformation which has taken place across the city in the last decade.
A Bar with a View
This can be best noted when you take the lift up to FiveFive rooftop bar for one of the best views of the city.
The Phnom Penh panorama has undergone a total transformation since I first moved into a second-floor flat in a shop house next to the FCC. Then the Intercontinental was the tallest building now it is just a vague speck on the horizon. But one aspect of the city has remained – and will continue to do so – the Royal Palace and adjoining National Museum.
From FiveFive you can look down upon both buildings from your lofty perch, and across to the modern skyscrapers in the distance around Koh Pich (Diamond Island). Set up your camera, order a coffee or cocktail and wait for the sun to start to dim. We did.
Bed and Breakfast at the Hyatt Regency Phnom Penh
As you would expect from a Hyatt hotel, my room was comfortable, well equipped and provided for excellent sleep during my stay. I particularly liked the bar of dark chocolate and fresh fruit awaiting my arrival. Having spent three days camping in the Cardamom Mountains, I put both shower and bath to the full test, which they passed.
However, it was in the breakfast that the Hyatt Regency Phnom Penh truly excelled. This was served in the hotel’s Market Café restaurant located in the ground floor behind the old building. Once more the designers have surpassed themselves. The restaurant commences in the former garden of the old mansion and then morphs into an air conditioned dining space. The croissants were crisp, the coffee strong, the eggs Benedict perfectly runny, the juice fresh and unsweetened. Also, there was enough healthy and non-healthy options, both western and Asian to appeal to any audience.
Sustainability at the Hyatt
The Hyatt Regency has attained the ASEAN Green Hotel Standard as part of its stringent measures to strengthen its sustainable credentials. Unfortunately, they do have plastic water bottles in their rooms still, but elsewhere this seems a relatively plastic-free hotel.
Part of the immediate success of the Hyatt Regency has been its appeal to the increasingly affluent Khmer customer base in the capital. Apparently there are more Rolls-Royce sold in Cambodia than in any other Southeast Asian country. During my stay there was one birthday party and a wedding celebrated.
History and Future of the Hyatt Regency
According to literature kindly provided by the hotel staff, the original building was built at the start of the twentieth century as a royal villa. Apparently the property was kept by various members of the royal family until the Khmer Rouge seized the capital in 1975.
Sometime around 1992, when the transitional UNTAC ran the country, the property achieved fame as Café No Problem, particularly for its generous pouring of vodka, or so legend has it.
The quality of the drinks has not diminished in the building’s latest incarnation. In the evening I enjoyed a pre-prandial and very presentable whisky sour sitting at the marble bar at the Attic Restaurant and Bar in the old building, while the band played.
Then we adjourned for dinner at FiveFive restaurant; a mix of tapas including an excellent baked oyster while the lights of the capital’s ever-changing skyline glittered in the distance. It was a wonderful conclusion to a great stay at the Hyatt Regency Phnom Penh. If only AsiaLIFE were still here to write about it.
Hyatt Regency Phnom Penh
55 Street 178, Phnom Penh, Cambodia
T: +855 23 600 1244
Mark Bibby Jackson
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